Ladies Become Voters

Black and white photo of group of white women in nineteenth century dress

photos courtesy Southern Women's Archive, Birmingham Public Library

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 7 No. 1, "Behind Closed Doors." Find more from that issue here

While working for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in her native Alabama, Marie Stokes Jemison became curious about the experiences of the state’s women reformers and suffragists of an earlier generation. As she searched for the unknown heroines of the South, she discovered much about her home city and her own family: her grandmother’s first cousin, for example, was Bossie O’Brien Hundley, the leading suffragist behind the women’s lobbying efforts in the Alabama legislature, and a close ally of Pattie Ruffner Jacobs. 

The experience, Jemison says, has “changed my life.” She recently co-founded the Southern Women’s Archive of the Birmingham Public Library, and she is currently writing a book about Southern women. In a letter to us, Jemison writes eloquently of the lessons history has taught her to apply to the struggles of recent years: 


Having worked for civil rights for blacks and ERA for women, I feel much of the opposition to women’s rights, particularly in the South, is analogous to the fight by Southern women for suffrage before 1920. The semantics today against ERA are virtually word for word the same semantics. 

The folk hero Sam Ervin, speaking against ERA in North Carolina last year, began a speech: “If I thought the ERA would make my wife and daughters happier, give them more privileges. ...” When you read Pattie, you will see that she quotes a letter from a legislator in 1914: “If I thought having the vote would make better wives, sisters. ...” 

Senator Bob Wilson in the Alabama Senate, 1978, argued that Alabama women are the most privileged women in the world and do not need ERA. The leader of the anti-ratification forces in 1916 began: “Southern women are the most privileged. ...” 

Having read and researched the suffrage period for so long now, I can truly sing, “I’ve heard this song before.” 

As you can see, the question of the black vote plagued Southern women in suffrage, which in my humble opinion was not as important an issue for women in other parts of the country. I think it took more courage, more fortitude, for Southern women to struggle for these basic rights than for women elsewhere, because their cultural role was so much more defined, especially by the burden of racism. In all the books by the experts, I have never read of much sympathy for Southern women in this position. One more example, I suppose, of how little we in the South are understood. 

I hope you can give Pattie life in your journal, because she had been lost until I found her. 

— Marie Stokes Jemison  


From the beginning, the women’s suffrage movement in the South was linked with racial issues. Black men had been voting since the Civil War, but as their numbers grew, so did the white politicians’ and businessmen’s fear of the power of their vote. During the 1890s, the disfranchisement movement gained considerable strength, led by members of the Democratic Party actively opposed to Populists and black-based Southern Republicanism. 

In 1901, a constitutional convention met in Montgomery, Alabama, the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” for the express purpose of taking the vote from black men by requiring them to pay a poll tax. At that convention, Frances Griffin, a teacher and president of the fledgling Alabama Suffrage Association, raised the question of women’s suffrage as well: 

I live in a household of women, of educated women. My sisters are widows and I am an old maid. There is not a man on the face of the earth interested particularly in how the affairs of our household go. We have no more voice in that neighborhood than if we were a party of Americans set down in Russia. There is a Negro gardener who works our fields. . . . He was a little over 21 years old when he came to us. He said he had been in school 10 years and he was at the first pages of the second reader, but when the voting time came, he went over to the village and did the voting for the family. 

And now you are taking that one prop from us. We ask you to at least give us his leavings. 

The delegates laughed at Griffin and promptly forgot her appeal. Following this failure, suffrage activity in Alabama virtually came to a halt, and by 1904 the Equal Suffrage Association had ceased to function. 

Nevertheless, suffrage sentiment continued to ferment, especially in Birmingham. The growth of women’s club activities was a major factor; like many others, Birmingham women found that the competence they developed through club experiences opened new vistas. In their meetings, speakers told of child labor in the textile mills, the long, hard hours of work, the widespread illiteracy and high rates of maternal and infant mortality. The women responded with private and group investigations. It quickly became apparent that laws to alleviate many of these problems were lax or nonexistent. Political action was demanded, but despite the women’s ability to identify such injustices, they had no power to effect changes. The resulting frustration led many club women to believe they must win the right to vote. 

On November 11, 1911, the Equal Suffrage League was born in Birmingham with Pat tie Ruffner Jacobs as president. The suffragists were few, but dedicated, and unfazed by the protective, chivalrous rhetoric used against them. For the most part, members were young and married to prominent businessmen and professional men, with considerable social position in the community. The cause had gained respectability since Frances Griffin addressed the Alabama Convention 10 years before, but older Birmingham society was still unimpressed by the activities of the League. They were especially disturbed by Pattie Jacobs, the most important suffragist and the freest spirit. 

“Pattie likes politics because of the men,” it was whispered, with the implication that Pattie was a “loose” woman. 

In fact, Pattie did enjoy the company of men. “The world is run by them,” she told her husband. “Politics is a male pastime and suffrage is a political issue. If we are to ever win, we have to learn your secrets.” 

Although gaining the vote was the consuming passion of her life, Pattie’s interests were varied. Possessing a lovely voice, she was much in demand as a church singer and was for many years soloist at the Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham. She was interested in art and interior decoration, and remodeled a small building in the back of her home into an art studio. Advanced in her thinking and interests, she was an early owner of a motor car. Even more gossip erupted on an occasion when she and her husband modeled the new Annette Kellerman bathing suits for an ad in a local newspaper. 

The Jacobs’ home contained a Chinese Room, a fascination to the neighborhood children. One of the children on the block remembers Pattie as a straight-backed, rather formal person, but “I was crazy about her. The Chinese room was never off-limits to us children, and she always had time to explain about the art and furniture.” 

Pattie Ruffner Jacobs was born October 2, 1885, the youngest of six children in Malden, West Virginia. Her grandfather, General Lewis Ruffner, was a wealthy salt producer and a staunch Unionist in the Civil War; her great uncle, Henry Ruffner, was president of Washington and Lee University and a Presbyterian minister with strong anti-slavery convictions. Booker T. Washington, the famous black educator and a houseboy to Pattie’s great aunt for a period of time, later wrote in his autobiography that she taught him much and “proved one of the best friends I ever possessed.” 

Pattie’s own parents, who were union sympathizers, moved to Nashville soon after her birth. Her mother, a well read and thoughtful woman, wanted her children to receive the best education available and then use it in constructive ways. Pattie proved to be the family’s most original thinker, as well as its most versatile and talented member. 

In a diary kept during the ages 19 to 22, she mentions resenting the comment that “Pattie has a man’s mind,” and the thoughts she confided to her diary were those of a restless, independent spirit. She tired easily of routines, and she longed to “break away and do something really unconventional and new.” 

As a senior at Ward’s in Nashville, Pattie organized nine senior girls into the Literary Society and was elected president of the group. “It is lovely to be president and preside, call the girls to order with a severe rap,” she wrote after being elected. Perhaps her need to lead was stimulated by a personality clash that existed between herself and her older sister, Bertha. In Bertha’s eyes, “Pattie can’t do anything right.” Bertha had married Harry Jones in Birmingham, and later invited her widowed mother and sister to come and live with them, a move especially traumatic for Pattie, then a young woman. 

Her writings during this period reflect hurt and a great desire to escape and establish herself elsewhere, someplace where she could show her sister what she could do. Refusing to waste her time in the numerous social activities of the day, she entered normal school where she studied two years to be a teacher. During this time, yearning for independence, she earned “pin money” painting and selling tally cards to bridge enthusiasts. 

After two years in art school in New York, Pattie returned to Birmingham at age 22 and was courted by Solon Jacobs, a popular bachelor in town. Although he was somewhat older, Pattie felt a growing fondness for him. But the institution of marriage troubled her and in a series of entries in her diary, she struggled with these questions. Convinced early that marriage was often poorly based, she vowed in 1893 never to be loved for anything but her “best, holiest, inner self.”

Pattie overcame her apprehensions and her marriage appears to have been a most happy one. Solon Jacobs later gave his wife unswerving support personal struggle through which she went, her doubts and questionings of the status quo, the search for her own identity, show Pattie Ruffner Jacobs as a remarkably perceptive and unusual Southern woman of the period. The reasons for her struggle are significant, because the same motivations were to strengthen and sustain her all her adult life. 


Should a “Lady” Vote?

Birmingham at the turn of the century, dubbed the “Pittsburgh of the South” due to the booming iron and steel industry, had few of the softer features of the old South. It produced hardware instead of cotton. Lords of industry were making and losing vast fortunes. It was a hard society in which money and power overshadowed all else. Birmingham lacked a natural aristocracy or leadership with humanitarian values. It was a new town: many of the leading families were only three generations from the coal mines. Pattie, by birth and upbringing, belonged to the upper class, but she was too sensitive and intelligent to play social games. Busying herself with club work, where she was soon introduced to the problems of working women and children, she became increasingly troubled and turned to the church, but it provided no support for her concern. Although Pattie, like many of the Southern suffragists, came from a religious background, she typically found no answer for social problems in the established church. 

In 1910 gritty, boisterous Birmingham had all the problems of a fast growing city, not the least of which was sewage disposal; typhoid and tuberculosis were constant threats. Leading a delegation to see the Mayor, Pattie suggested a plan to divide the city into districts with women appointed in each to watch over sanitary conditions and report back to him. She was graciously received, thanked, and then nothing happened. She did not know that a women’s group in Selma had approached the city fathers about the same unsanitary conditions and had likewise been ignored. Within the next year both groups came to the realization, independently of each other, that their efforts were useless without the means to “vote the rascals out.” 

Pattie responded eagerly to talks at her club meetings by visiting suffragists from other Southern states. Then, in 1910, Birmingham was host to a national Child Labor Conference at which the famous reformer, Jane Addams, spoke. Pattie attended at the invitation of Mrs. W. L. Murdock, a veteran in the fight against child labor in Alabama. After this conference she said to Mrs. Murdock, “I have seen enough. We must organize for the vote.” With Mrs. Murdock she set about to organize the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association, the first such activity since the 1890s. The organization grew rapidly and soon a state alliance seemed possible. Invitations sent to the Selma suffrage group stated clearly the need for a statewide meeting. “To protect the home, to conserve the race and bring to fruit the seed of democracy sown by our forefathers when they declared taxation without representation is tyranny.” 

Pattie Jacobs, Bossie O’Brien Hundley — wife of a federal judge and daughter of Birmingham’s mayor — and two other women attended the 1912 national suffragists’ convention in Philadelphia, only six weeks after forming the Alabama group. These hard-working, well-organized, articulate women did much to debunk the unjust myth of the scatterbrained Southern belle so readily accepted by the rest of the country. In her eloquent address to the general assembly at the convention, Pattie spoke of the pedestal platitude “that appeals less and less to the intelligence of Southern women who are learning in increasing numbers that the assertion that they are too noble, too pure to vote, in reality brands them as incompetents.” 

The Alabama women were received warmly by the convention delegates. Birmingham newspapers, now more favorable to their cause, gave wide coverage in both the society and the news sections, bolstering interest in the suffrage issue throughout the state. 

The state association threw itself into an effective organizing campaign under Pattie’s leadership. Working women were encouraged to bring their lunch and have coffee at the downtown Birmingham headquarters, which was well supplied with literature and volunteers. Suffragists fanned out across the state, speaking to women about forming local associations with the goal of establishing an active group in every county in preparation for the 1915 legislative session three years away. During 1913 and 1914 much activity revolved around raising money and attracting attention to the cause. 

As the suffragists entered a new community, they usually found a noticeable lack of enthusiasm and sometimes hostility. Ladies simply did not speak in public on political questions. Men were certain they were going to see militant, “mannish” women, and were surprised instead to find fashionably dressed women of culture who did not threaten, beg or plead their cause but merely presented the facts and a case based on reason. Delivering their message in a logical, dignified and charming fashion, the suffragists often won over all but the most hardcore opposition. After a speech by Pattie on the courthouse steps of a small town in south Alabama, the editor of a weekly newspaper went so far as to say, “The arguments of the ladies on the suffrage question were strong and convincing and made many carry home a feeling much more favorable to the movement than they ever had.” 

An important part of the strategy was to try to show that voting was not in conflict with the behavior of a “lady.” As Ann Scott points out in The Southern Lady, “As long as she was respectable, a southern lady could get by with an awful lot.” 


Sanctity and Supremacy

It is hard to understand how the politically powerful could resist these dedicated, remarkable women, but resist they did. The political forces that denied the vote to blacks in 1901 certainly feared women’s suffrage and said so through the press and speakers of the day. An unsigned pamphlet that made its way across the state sums up their fears: 

It is the avowed purpose of leaders among northern advocates to break the “Solid South” by means of votes of Negro women and break down race and sex distinction. Is this in keeping with the traditions and civilization of the south? 

Will the white men of Alabama, in response to the misguided few, subject the innocent and unsuspecting mothers, wives, and daughters of Alabama to such terrible consequences? 

Or this from a letter to an Alabama newspaper in 1912: 

Take a word of a veteran, one who in 1861 shouldered his musket and went to do battle for the Southland that he loved and bears on his body the scars of service; one who in the dark days of reconstruction while the good women were at home praying for its preservation was at the ballot box fighting for white supremacy and the sanctity of that home. 

Over and over, the suffragists were told the hopelessness of their cause; they either did not hear or refused to believe that a cause so just, an argument so reasonable, presented by white ladies so gently bred, would not prevail. 

In 1914, the National Suffrage Association paid the Alabama suffragists a great compliment by coming south to hold their executive meeting. Alabama was chosen because of the energy and dedication shown by Birmingham women such as Pattie and Bossie Hundley who had marched beside their Yankee sisters in the streets of New York and Washington. 

As soon as it was announced that a group of national equal suffrage workers was coming to Alabama, trouble began for Pattie. The Alabama press accused the suffrage board of coming south to take the decision about women and the vote away from the state, giving that power to the federal government instead. The states rights issue plagued the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association from that time on. Out of deference to the strong states rights feelings of many local citizens and politicians, the Alabama women continually stressed their wish for enfranchisement by action of the state legislature rather than by imposition of Congress. Yet the Alabama Association always remained affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, even when the federal approach became the only hope. 

Although the Alabama group wanted no part of conservative states rights organizations, it also shied away from the more radical National Woman’s Party headed by Alice Paul, which worked for enfranchisement only by federal amendment. Militant tactics and attitudes frightened the Southern women who, after all, had never deviated from their ladylike behavior. Alice Paul spent a fruitless week in Birmingham in May, 1915, but could not lure any of the local women into her group. These women still believed that reason would prevail and that militancy would only hurt the cause. 

The long anticipated opportunity to present their case came in 1915, the first legislative session since the Alabama Suffrage Association had been organized. All forces went into action. Bossie Hundley took the legislative responsibility. She began to build a file on each legislator to determine his usefulness to the cause, writing each to ask his stand. In every legislative and senatorial district, suffragists interviewed candidates and reported back their degree of support. The responses from the candidates were predominately noncommittal and political, but over and over included comments such as:

“My residence is in a Negro county, a population of more than 30,000 Negroes to a white population of less than 4,000. I would want to be assured that the amendment submitted to the voters eliminated Negro women from the provision of suffrage.” 


“Just why your sex should desire the ballot is surprising to myself as well as to many others as you occupy socially a more enviable position in the south especially than ladies enjoy anywhere on the face of the earth.” 

Undaunted, Pattie and Bossie continued to travel the state, urging women to put forth intense effort toward the big day. 

The Alabama Legislature opened its sessions on January 15. On the same day, Congressman Tom Heflin was back on his feet in the US Congress professing: 

“If the political arena becomes more attractive to the average woman than the important duties of the home, who will perform those duties? Man cannot, and if woman neglects them, the state is doomed and the republic must perish.” 

The suffrage bill was introduced into both the Alabama Senate and House soon after the session began and was sent to what were considered friendly committees. 

The Equal Suffrage lobby obtained a public hearing at a joint session on January 28, 1915, at which Pattie and the venerable Julia Tutwiler, among others, testified. Tutwiler, a pioneer in the fields of prison reform, convict labor and education for women, spoke about the need for women to gain the vote as a world at war appeared inevitable: 

“When those who suffer most by war have a voice in declaring it, there will be no more wars of aggression. Women will always be ready to give their sons, their brothers, lovers and husbands to the defense of their homes and their fatherland; but they will never willingly send them to be ‘cannon fodder’ in wars of contest.” 

The testimony fell on deaf ears; the House promptly shelved the Suffrage Bill indefinitely. However, the Senate agreed to hear it on the 25th legislative day, still five months away. 

The intervening months were busy for the suffragists. Lobbying intensified as Pattie and Bossie Hundley worked feverishly on the undecided legislators and kept in touch with the sure votes. The state headquarters, moved to Montgomery for the legislative session, actively distributed literature and politicked the press and legislators. US Congressman Heflin, during summer recess, was in the state claiming that the supporters of the amendment were only a few, meanwhile implying he would change his vote if he could be convinced the few were a majority. Bossie, in the audience on one occasion when he made such a claim, interrupted to say, “Surely, you know your position to be untenable since there is no way for women to register their opinion on suffrage.” This bit of a debate brought much comment in the press, and helped keep the issue alive. 

A low blow was dealt the cause two days before the scheduled August 25th vote. An anonymous pamphlet, “A Protest against Woman Suffrage in Alabama,” was distributed which played on old racial fears. It charged that the effect of reopening the suffrage question “will be to restore the Negro men under the Fifteenth Amendment with the additional votes of Negro women. 

“Who will benefit by woman’s suffrage?” it asked. “Will the modesty of your wife and daughter permit her to come in contact with the turmoil of politics? Will it not put a sword in the hands of the immodest and of those who would tear down the traditions of the south?” The scurrilous pamphlet was written by several Selma gentlemen, one a former congressman, after the Selma Bar Association took a stand against suffrage. 

Pattie and the suffragists frantically prepared a rebuttal to the pamphlet and distributed it the next day, but the damage was already done. The sponsor of the Suffrage Bill, Representative Green of Selma, withdrew his support and spoke against the measure. 

When the vote was taken, women packed the balcony and halls of the Confederate capital. The House was decorated in yellow, the suffrage color, and the women, along with favorable legislators, wore sunflowers as a symbol of hope. Although the bill secured a majority, it fell 12 votes short of the three-fifths vote required. The spirit of Senate supporters was dampened by this defeat and when the vote came several days later, the bill was easily defeated 20 to 12. The code of chivalry coupled with racial fears killed women’s suffrage in Alabama in 1915. 

Failure was painful, but the indefatigable Pattie commented, “We have received a check. That is all. We will be before the Legislature in its next session and in all succeeding sessions until our bill is submitted. We have not by any means given up the fight.” 

There was the inevitable letdown after seeing the work of five years end in humiliating defeat, and many suffragists lost heart. 

In addition, an anti-suffrage organization known as the Alabama Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was formed in the Selma area in 1916. It was affiliated with a national organization which published “The Woman Patriot,” claiming to be dedicated to “The Defense of Womanhood, Motherhood, The Family, and The State and Against Suffragism, Feminism and Socialism.” “The Patriot” declared that passing the (federal) Anthony Amendment meant certain race and sex war, and this news found an eager audience in Alabama, particularly whites in the Black Belt. In 1916, the National Equal Suffrage Association shifted its focus to the adoption of a federal amendment; clearly, the states rights approach was hopeless. This move alienated Politicians at the state and national level and most Alabamians violently opposed suffrage granted by the federal government. Pattie, speaking to the state convention in 1916, also urged support of the federal amendment, and gave up her position as state president in order to work more intensely at the national level. 

World War I offered suffragists an opportunity to show their concern for the nation, and many plunged into war work at the expense of the movement. Just as the Civil War had interrupted the earlier struggles of Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and other abolitionists and feminists of that period, World War I distracted the later recruits. Pattie was appointed state chairperson of the National Liberty Loan drive and the Alabama Suffrage movement took second place. 

But while the local movement floundered, drained of its vibrant leadership, efforts at the national level led to the passage of the 19th Amendment by Congress. Both Alabama Senators, John Bankhead and Oscar Underwood, voted against the amendment as did 11 of the 12 representatives. Congressman Richard Pearson Hobson, a naval hero of the Spanish-American War, was the only affirmative vote. It cost him reelection to Congress. 

The fight now moved to securing ratification of the Amendment in the states. At the 1919 national convention, assured that their fight would soon be won, the Alabama women reorganized. Pattie again became president of the state association, and the women girded for battle. The Alabama Legislature was scheduled to convene on July 8, 1919, and the suffragists had high hopes of success. 

But anti-ratification forces also quickly mobilized, and in Montgomery a group called the Southern Women’s Anti-Ratification League formed. Marie Bankhead Owen, the prominent sister of Senator John Bankhead, became president, and membership grew rapidly throughout Alabama. Future Senator Lister Hill joined the ranks as did the entire Bankhead family, two former governors, judges and legislators. Opposition from textile mill owners, coal mine operators and liquor interests was likewise formidable. Manufacturers opposed ratification because they worried that their cheap labor supply of women and children would dry up if female voters managed to pass the Child Labor Law. Coal mine owners were concerned that convict labor might disappear, for the ladies had consistently worked and spoken against this inhuman but lucrative system. Liquor interests knew from experience what militant women could do to protect their families. Money poured into the anti-suffrage movement. 

Some of the opposition, while agreeing that women should vote, still violently opposed any federal amendment. 

The major press was now firmly in the enemy camp and editorial comment was generally patronizing and barbed. Using flattering language about that “charming but naive lady, Mrs. Jacobs,” journalists dismissed her arguments, claiming that democracy had nothing to gain by the enfranchisement of women. Over and over Pattie responded to the comments in firm but always genteel language, yet beside some editorials pasted in her scrapbook she wrote, “Unanswerable!” She was forced to defend her sisters in the movement who were occasionally taunted as members of the leisure class. In answer to one editorial she wrote, “The discontent distinguishing suffragists is not so much with their own individual conditions, but with the affairs which still permit the exploitation of women and children; and an overwhelming desire to help relieve such conditions.” She was convinced that women had a role to play in abolishing society’s evils and saw the vote as a prerequisite. 

The thorny race issue forced the suffragists into expedient positions and statements. Pattie wrote for the Birmingham News as the vote approached, “Qualifications that have kept Negro men from voting in the southland can be adjusted to keep Negro women from voting, when the ballot has been made equal for white men and women.” 

There seems little doubt that this statement did not express her true feelings, for she said about the unfair poll tax several years after suffrage had been won: 

“I believe that qualified Negro men and women should be allowed to express their choice of candidates and their opinions on public questions in the ballot box; and that exactly the same test should be applied to them as is applied to other citizens, no more, or less. ” 

At the national level, women’s suffrage in Alabama was considered hopeless. However, the vigorous campaign waged by Pattie Jacobs and the League kept the state’s suffrage movement in the national news. If the unthinkable could happen in Alabama, it could mean a quick victory nationwide. 

The national opposition’s strategy was to secure 13 clean, fast rejections to ratification of the 19th Amendment, thereby blocking any court action in case a future legislature should reverse its stance. According to their plan, Alabama would be the first of the 13 states. 

When the legislature assembled on July 8, 1919, Representative J. Lee Long of Butler County in south Alabama introduced a resolution to reject the proposed Amendment. On July 16, 1919, an open hearing was held before a joint session of the legislature. Surprisingly, the opponents refused to make a vocal presentation, but from the floor Senator James Evins read the touching appeal of 12 Montgomery society leaders. The speech implored the legislators not to force them from the 

“quietude of our homes into the contaminating atmosphere of political struggle. We seek to discharge our duty to our country and to the cause of civilization and right living, not by voting and holding office, but by making homes in which Love and Peace and Happiness dwell and by instilling into our children love of their country and devotion to high ideals. We seek to remain such and we look with confidence to those in whom the high traditions of the south will live to protect us from this device of northern abolitionists which, if adopted, it seems to us, be not only debasing in its effect upon the womanly character, not only productive of discord in the sweet harmony of the family circle, but will also inevitably result in striking down those barriers which you and your fathers have raised between Ango-Saxon civilization and those who would mongrelize and corrupt it. ” 

The Senate rejected the Amendment the next day; two months later, the House concurred. Antisuffrage had won again. 

The 1919 defeat was a little less bleak than 1915, because ratification seemed an idea whose time had come. Indeed, within the year, Tennessee (the home state of the militant Sue White) became the 36th state to ratify and the long battle was over. But no deep South state ever ratified the 19th Amendment. 

A few months before the amendment became law, the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association voted itself out of existence and members of the Suffrage Association joined together to form the League of Women Voters. For several years, Pattie Jacobs served as an officer in the National League of Women Voters. 

Backed by the support and loyalty of a large group of women throughout the state now armed with the vote, Pattie used her influence and energy in a number of humanitarian reforms. Campaigns against the infamous system of leasing convicts to work private coal mines and the abuse of child labor engaged her, and she saw both evils through to the end. Always concerned about unregulated working hours, she corresponded with Mary Anderson in the Woman’s Bureau, US Department of Labor, as early as 1922 on the need for an eight-hour day. In 1919 she spoke before the National Democratic Committee, though no women had yet been admitted to the committee. She was a member of the National Association of Democratic Women and served as Associate National Committeewoman. A year later, the National Democratic Committee selected six women to join the men, and Pattie was one of them. 

Through her activities in the League of Women Voters and the Women’s Bureau of Labor, she met Eleanor Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt later appointed her head of the Women’s Division of the Consumer Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration. Then, in 1938, while serving as publicity speaker for the TVA, Pattie Jacobs died suddenly of a heart attack. She was 60 years old. 

Pattie Ruffner Jacobs was born into a South in which women rarely appeared in public. In fact, much of Birmingham was askance at her deviation from the accepted role of women. Her daughter, Madeline Jacobs Stallings, remembers: 

“She was a woman so far in advance of her time. Her life was a series of interests and activities which were an anathema to the women of her generation. She did things which the modern girl takes for granted, but in which she was a real pioneer....”